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By Nafeez Ahmed *
Many of these agreements are geared towards the production of crops or biofuels for export to rich and developed countries - with the consequence that small farmers are displaced from their lands and lose their livelihoods, while local communities go hungry. The concentration of ownership of the world's arable land in the hands of powerful investors and corporations is growing rapidly, spurred by scarcity of resources and, associated with it, rising prices.
According to a recent report by the American organization Grain: "The gigantic demands of the food and energy industries mean that arable land and water are not used for local food production, but for the production of commodities and their industrial processing."
However, lesser known factors of this phenomenon include "conservation" and "carbon offsets". In western Kenya, as reported by the English organization Forest Peoples Program (FPP), the forest service (KFS) in that country forcibly evicted 15,000 indigenous Sengwer from the forests of Embobut and the Cherangany mountain ranges and burned about a thousand homes.
Since 2007, successive Kenyan governments have threatened to evict Sengwer communities from the Embobut forests. The final deadline for villagers to leave the forests expired in early January, leading to the most recent resurgence of violence. The pretext for evicting the indigenous people - erroneously characterized as “squatters” - is that they are allegedly responsible for the increasing degradation of the forests.
In the forests of Mount Elgo, another part of Kenya, the KFS 'background reveals an even more complex story. In 2010, the Ogiek people received an ultimatum to relocate, in the name of conservation and reforestation.
In February this year, Survival International reported that, like the Sengwer, the Agiek were violently evicted from their homes, in flagrant violation of previous court orders, with reports of groups of government officials and their supporters occupying the lands. While deforestation is undoubtedly linked to the activities of poor communities, the government's approach illustrates its favoritism for biased local interests. In addition to indigenous communities, the forests are home to several thousand tea producers, forest workers and squatters.
The devastating situation of the indigenous peoples of Kenya is symptomatic of the misguided approach of international agencies on conservation.
The Natural Resources Management Project (NRMP) of the World Bank and the Kenyan government, launched in 2007, has financed projects under the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD +) scheme in the Cherangany mountain ranges, including funding for “readiness readiness” processes, some of which began in May 2013.
In the REDD scheme, companies in the developed world buy carbon credits to invest in reducing emissions from forested lands. Those credits appear on company balance sheets as carbon emission reductions. In practice, however, REDD schemes encourage companies to emit more, while buying land and resources in developing countries at gift prices.
A FPP report on the role of the World Bank argues that the implementation of the NRMP project - overseen by the same KFS forces that seek to wipe out everything in Cherangany - violates the bank's own operational safeguards.
A formal complaint from the Sengwer filed with the World Bank in January last year claimed that human rights abuses by Kenyan forces were a “direct result” of the bank-funded program:
“An example of the damage caused by the project is that it modified the limit of the Cherangany Reserve”, according to FPP, “in such a way that the Sengwer families, without any information or prior consultation, found themselves from one day to the next within the reserve and therefore, automatically, were subject to eviction by the forest service, effectively financed by the World Bank. These evictions included the burning of homes and food warehouses in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013. " In a statement in February this year, the World Bank denied any link in its program to forced evictions. A letter addressed to the bank in March by the Network No to REDD in Africa - a group of civil society organizations - signed by more than sixty international NGOs, accused the bank of “admitting its complicity in the forced relocation of the Sengwer as well as offering support to the Kenyan government to cover up this cultural genocide ”.
The Sengwer's complaint is being investigated by the bank's Inspection Panel. Although the report has not been finalized, a bank spokesperson said it will not be discussed by the board before August or September. During the November 2013 international negotiations on climate change in Warsaw, delegates reached an agreement that would allow REDD to move forward while, however, excluding questions about who should control and benefit from the new value of carbon contained in forests.
Instead, the World Bank's approach to defining carbon rights has been widely criticized by civil society as it creates conflicts between new carbon rights and pre-existing traditional rights of local communities. The lack of clear safeguards and measures opens up unprecedented opportunities for corporate and state land grabbing.
Tony La Viña, dean of the Ateneo School of Government at the University of Manila and chair of the intergovernmental REDD negotiations at the Copenhagen and Durban climate conferences, says: “Carbon markets, when they are working, should support the management of the forests of the populations that live in them, and not give national governments a new tool for the dispossession of their citizens of the natural resources they have conserved for generations and on which they depend ”.
According to the Network No to REDD in Africa, it is precisely because indigenous peoples and their rights are not considered in the principles of REDD that their implementation can lead to genocide. This article was inspired by a note by British filmmaker Dean Puckett, who will travel to Kenya in August to investigate the Segwer case. * Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, an international journalist and scholar, is the author of “A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It” and the upcoming novel ZERO POINT.